My perfect morning has been to imagine a man drinking his coffee, holding his newspaper in his hands and telling his wife: “Marge, you’ve got to read Gris today.”
I am a storyteller. In the South, we’re all storytellers. It’s what we do.
People have been saying so many nice things about me these past two weeks, I swear I must have died and gone to my own funeral.
I used to say I was lucky because I have always known I wanted to be a writer. A man corrected me. “You’re not lucky,” he said. “You’re blessed.”
In the second grade, I published my own family newspaper on Blue Horse notebook paper. I would write the stories and headlines. I even did my own cartoon strip. Then I would staple it together and sell it to my parents for 10 cents. It was my first paying job in journalism. My mother saved every edition.
When I first started at The Telegraph in 1978, we typed in triple space on IBM Selectric typewriters. “Cut and paste” meant cut and paste. I can still smell those glue pots and hear the sounds of the pneumatic tubes being whisked to the composing room. When we went out to cover stories, we had to search for pay phones to call the office.
My wife, Delinda, claims my mind never stops working. There have been many mornings when I would wake up and start writing in my head before my feet touched the floor.
When your story makes it on somebody’s refrigerator door, that’s the highest honor in journalism.
After nine books, I’ve been asked if I am ever going to write fiction. Do I have the great American novel in me? I’ve done stories on a dog that answered the telephone, a preacher who delivered sermons from a coffin and a lady who has Elvis Presley’s big toenail on display in her museum. Why would I want to write fiction? I couldn’t make that stuff up.
I have spent my entire career interviewing people. But one of my greatest thrills was being interviewed on the radio by Larry Munson before a Georgia football game.
Every time I had a speaking engagement, I would ask all the veterans to stand up and be recognized and thank them for their service to our country.
Always look for the extraordinary in the ordinary.
When folks urged me to run for political office, I would tell them I was too honest to be a politician. I did, however, get a few write-in votes for lieutenant governor one year.
I still have my old pica pole. That’s the way we used to measure copy and photographs. Six picas equals one inch. The younger reporters have no idea what I’m talking about. Besides, they’re too busy tweeting.
In the Knight-Ridder bureau at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, I shared a table with Dave Barry and Mitch Albom. I sat there hoping some of their greatness would rub off on me.
I figured I had arrived when I got my own Wikipedia entry and had a sandwich named after me at Molly’s Cafe.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still used a dictionary and wore a tie to work every day.
Life has a way of humbling you. I remember one day I was convinced everyone was talking about what an outstanding column I had written. That afternoon, I was at an animal exhibit in the basement of the Museum of Arts & Sciences. There, in the bottom of the chinchilla cage, was my column from the morning paper. I’m sure I’ve house trained a lot of puppies, too.
I have always followed Charles Kuralt’s advice and taken the back roads. That’s where the stories are.
Harley Bowers was like a father to me. We traveled many places together. He kept a sign on his desk: “When I’m right nobody remembers. When I’m wrong nobody forgets.”
Bill Boyd was a saint, too. Every time his wife, Marvalene, tells me how proud he was of me, I go off and have myself a little cry.
I once had a man call and ask me to speak to a senior group at a local church. I told him I had just been there a few months ago. “Come on back anyway,” he said. “We’ve already forgotten what you had to say.”
I took great pride in the accomplishments of the Reindeer Gang. We helped a lot of folks at Christmas.
When something would happen in our family, my boys would ask if I was going to write about it. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them when I did columns on them having to wear braces, going to the prom and getting cut from the baseball team.
I once had a lady ask how Jake was doing. “I’ve never met him,” she said. “But I’ve watched him grow up in your column.”
I have had some readers meet me for the first time and tell me I was a lot taller than my picture in the paper. That’s because my mug shot was the size of a postage stamp. They were shocked to discover I am 6-foot-1. They thought I was a little, short man.
I have been kissed by a camel. It was not on my bucket list.
Grisamore is a German name. The word “Gris” in French means the color “grey” or “gray.” So, when I write my memoirs, I’m going to call it “50 Shades of Gris.”
An elderly woman once wrote a letter to the editor and said: “I hope his wife doesn’t mind, but I love Ed Grisamore.” Delinda has always said if anything ever happened to her, every little lady in Middle Georgia over the age of 65 would be courting me.
I once wrote in a column that girls basketball should be against the law. It took a full page to print all the angry letters.
There is a tiny crossroads in Upson County called Dog Crossing. I once made fun of the place when I said it was so small it didn’t have a city limits sign. So they put up a sign and made me an honorary citizen. They gave me a key to the city shaped like a dog bone. I called my next book, “Smack Dab in Dog Crossing.”
In 1996, I wrote the Braves would beat the Yankees in the World Series. And we all know what happened. The column ran on the national wire, and I started getting letters from irate Yankee fans as far away as Juneau, Alaska. A man in Janesville, Wisconsin, told me my column was put up on a “wall of shame” at a local sports bar. So I guess I’m famous in Janesville.
Whenever I found myself surrounded by distractions. I remembered Ernie Pyle, the patron saint of newspaper columnists. He wrote stories from a bunker during World War II with a typewriter in his lap.
For 25 years, I did a traditional “What I’m thankful for” column at Thanksgiving. Two years ago, a man wrote me that he had been depressed and had been thinking about ending his life until he read my column about being grateful. I held his letter in my hands and couldn’t stop shaking.
There have been judges on both my mother and father’s side of the family. I have been a judge, too. I have judged chili cook-offs, talent shows, beauty pageants, parade floats and dog shows.
Janet Atwood was my high school English teacher. She saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. She encouraged me to write for the school newspaper. She died before she had a chance to see me become a successful writer.
I will always be grateful to Billy Watson, who hired me and kept me inspired. And to Cecil Bentley, who gave me the opportunity to write columns after Bill Boyd retired.
I continue to live my life in search of the perfect pen.
At a book signing, a lady came up and said, “I thought you were dead.” She was confusing me with Lewis Grizzard. Since he was one of my writing heroes, I took it as a compliment. At least our last names started out the same.
I never knew what the next news cycle would bring. I could be interviewing a former Miss America one day and a homeless man the next.
I am looking forward to life’s coming attractions. As the song says, “When good wind blows your way, be ready to sail.”
Friday was columnist Ed Grisamore’s final day at The Telegraph. A gallery of his work titled “True Gris: A Writer’s Life” will be on display at Vineville United Methodist Church in May and June. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Contact Ed Grisamore at firstname.lastname@example.org.